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Memory Care: An Overview

Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be difficult. You may be worried about their physical and emotional well-being alone at home. You may also struggle to keep your family member safe from wandering and agitation. As you consider care for a loved one with dementia, memory care is an excellent option.

Let’s take a closer look at what memory care is, what type of care it provides and how to pay for it. Ultimately, it may be the right choice for your family. 

What is memory care?

Memory care is specially designed for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia to provide safe living quarters, create routines and enrich skills with trained staff. 

Living quarters

First and foremost, memory care provides a safe space for dementia patients. Access is restricted with code-controlled doors and emergency alarms. They might also have outdoor patios that are safely enclosed to prevent wandering. 

The layout of the facilities also helps guide patients through the space. For example, some have color-coded hallways and ample common spaces. They may even include “memory boxes” outside living quarters. At the same time, many facilities offer patients the option to share a room to boost social interactions. 


Routine is also a major part of caring for dementia patients. In general, memory care units have specific protocols for maintaining healthy routines. For example, they try to keep staffing consistent as much as possible to prevent confusion and agitation. In addition, every patient receives a customized schedule of structured activities to build a strong sense of routine. 


Memory care also involves enrichment activities so that patients stay active physically and socially. Community activities and events may involve art, music, games, and other hobbies. Enrichment programs like these are created to bring structure to patients’ living experience and help them find joy. 

What type of care does a memory care unit provide?

A memory care unit is a full-scale provider that offers a variety of services, depending on the needs of the dementia patient. Some typical services may include:

  • Custodial care (bathing, toileting, dressing, etc.)
  • Meals and nutrition
  • Medication support
  • Laundry and housekeeping 
  • 24-hour staff trained in dementia care
  • Nursing care as needed

As you can imagine, not all these services will apply for every patient. Providers will create a customized service plan for each patient according to his/her needs. 

What other benefits does a memory care unit provide?

Beyond the wide range of services available, there are other key benefits of choosing a memory unit. In general, memory care units have seen success with patients in several different areas, such as:

  • Reducing medication needed through enrichment programs that prioritize wellness. 
  • Preventing depression and agitation through social interaction and community. 
  • Decreasing stress in caregivers by providing a safe living arrangement for loved ones with dementia. 

These are just a handful of the benefits that families have experienced by opting for a memory care unit. 

Is it better for a dementia patient to live at home?

At first, families may think that a loved one with dementia should live at home, surrounded by familiar people and environments. This may or may not be true. While you and your family know what’s best, it’s important to consider some of the downsides of living at home. Some questions to consider include:

  • Is your loved one safe from wandering? 
  • Can he/she eat, bathe and do other daily tasks?
  • Does he/she feel isolated or lonely living at home?
  • Is his/her dementia condition progressing quickly?

It’s possible that your loved one will better thrive in a memory care unit, surrounded by new friends and enrichment activities. You might also feel more confident about his/her safety and wellness in a secure unit where a provider organizes meals and medication. 

What is the difference between memory care and assisted living care?

Memory care and assisted living care are two distinct options. The biggest difference is that memory care is specifically intended for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Staff is trained and facilities are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of those who suffer memory-related impairment. 

On the other hand, assisted living is for those who can no longer perform daily tasks, but don’t have other complicating medical conditions. Those in assisted living may need help getting out of bed, taking medications or using the toilet. This care isn’t specifically related to dementia. 

What is the living experience like?

Every memory care unit has a distinct feel, but there are some features you’ll find across the board. Generally speaking, these units prioritize the physical and emotional well-being of patients through a structured routine with enrichment activities. There are plenty of opportunities for social interaction and an overall focus on community. 

Living in a memory care unit is a great way for dementia patients to feel less lonely, pursue their hobbies and feel protected in a secure location with trained staff.

Should I be worried about COVID?

While memory care units have COVID protocols, it can be a challenge for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia to follow them. For example, social distancing, washing hands and wearing a face mask may not be possible for these patients. They may not understand these changes to their routines or become frustrated by them. 

Given that COVID protocols can be difficult for patients to follow, memory care units do everything possible to prevent the spreading of COVID from outside the unit. They also try to incorporate new COVID-prevention habits into the daily routine of patients, so that it becomes a familiar part of their lives. 

How much does a memory care unit cost?  

Because of the specialized care provided by a memory care unit - including trained staff, specially-designed facilities, dementia-related activities and nursing care as needed - it’s typically a more expensive option than assisted living. 

Of course the final cost will depend on the personalized services required for an individual patient. It will also vary by state and facility. However, according to estimates, the median cost of memory care ranges from $5,000-$5,250 per month, while assisted living costs on average $4,000 per month. As you can see, it runs about $1,000 more a month than typical assisted living care. 

How can I pay for a memory care unit?

There are several ways to reduce costs when it comes to paying for memory care. Let’s give an overview of the most common options below. 

  • Medicare & Medicaid: These government-sponsored health insurance options typically pay for medically necessary care. This means that any medical care provided at any facility is covered. However, other expenses such as room and board, custodial care, etc. isn’t covered. In this case, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for these living expenses. 
  • Private insurance: If you have private insurance, you’ll have to check with your provider about what’s covered and not. Typically, all medical costs are covered by private insurance, but depending on your plan, you may also receive coverage for some custodial or nursing care. 

How else can I pay for a memory care unit?

You may also be able to pay for a memory care unit in other ways, such as:

  • Long-term care insurance
  • Life-insurance policy
  • Employer-provided assistance
  • Veterans benefits

With these options, it’s key to check your eligibility and coverage. Talk to your providers to find how you can leverage these alternatives to help pay for this type of care. 

When is a memory care unit a good idea?

If you or a loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s or other dementias, a memory care unit could be right for you. This care service gives you the peace of mind that the patient is safe and surrounded by trained staff. He/she may also discover a greater quality of living with enrichment activities, social interaction and the basics of daily life (such as laundry, medication, etc.) already taken care of. 

As you make a decision about future care, it’s ideal to weigh the pros and cons of a memory care unit. While it’s a more expensive option, this specialized care can do wonders for the patient’s well-being. Caregivers will also feel confident in their loved one’s safety in a secure memory care unit

How can I find the right memory care unit?

My Caring Plan has a large directory of memory care facilities. Information, such as ratings and information about each facility has been gathered from various sources from across the web.

Once you have identified a few possibilities, you should also visit each memory care facility. These visits can be essential for finding the right fit for your loved one.